Monday, November 18, 2019

A Perspective and Farewell to China

Our last two nights were spent in Hong Kong. It was a very quick visit and my part was cut in half as the second day I skipped the bus tour due to a mild intestinal issue. By early afternoon I was fine, but the tour had departed early morning! The point I am making is that my view of Hong Kong was very limited. It is a huge and magical city with so much to see! So much was not seen and certainly worth a return trip someday. 

This is a lengthy post so grab a cuppa.

We arrived by train which is a much better way to transition into another area of a country and to give some perspective. Locals traveling with us were in a pretty good mood, so I am guessing they were on holiday. Our train, not the famous bullet train, went very fast and extremely smoothly through the countryside.

We had been provided lunch by our guide, but the train also had lovely ladies coming through with hot and cold items.  Click on photos for larger view as usual.

Our train actually got up to 308 km which is over 191 miles per hour.  Not a single shake or ear pop or even much increase in noise!

We crossed rice fields as we left Guilin, the karst area of southern China.

And in a couple of hours after two stops we were entering the Hong Kong District, one country and two governments.  

Now for a brief history and essential rant.  They have another few years before they are supposed to be totally melded into mainland China rules and laws.  If you are following the protests closely, you know that the young people are willing to die to prevent this, and I am afraid this may happen!  I am guessing they remember Hong Kong's form of democracy based on the British rule.  If you want to know how all this started in 2014 you can go to this or this link and read the history.  It is complicated but seems to have begun with the disappearance of a number of booksellers in Hong Kong who sold books critical of the mainland government, which was legal to criticize your government as Hong Kong had freedom of the press.  A few managers of the bookstore called wives from mainland China saying they were on business for some time and to excuse their sudden disappearance.  They all never came back. Governments that are fascist are good at making citizens disappear or putting them in jail under false accusations and suppressing freedom of the press by claiming it is false news rather than bringing facts to argue...sound familiar?  You cannot rule with an iron fist if the press spews out facts against you. 

If you are following the U. S. impeachment hearings the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was told she had better watch her back when she said to her supervisors that she was confused by Guiliana's work in Ukraine without him going through normal channels ...she received vague threats with no specific comments on how she could improve doing her job.  This is what mobsters do.  (Those two Russian/Americans, friends of this U.S. administration, that were arrested at an airport with one-way tickets out of the country a while back, were involved in this false effort.)

This year mainland China stated they were going to extradite people who had been arrested and send them to the mainland for trial. That set off a major eruption of protestors.  There are rumors that some mainland Chinese are being paid to enter Hong Kong and incite more violent protests to make the real protestors look like terrorists.  Also, mainland soldiers are now being stationed at the border.  History in the making is breathtaking. 

OK, now back to my trip.  In just a little while we crossed closer to the water and began to see the industrial shipping areas that Hong Kong is famous for.  They used to be the number one port on the globe, but now they are 4th with other mainland China ports being more active and bringing in more money.

Can you see the high rises in the distance across the suspension bridge?

In no time we were into the city of high rises and gleaming buildings. There were just a dozen of us that took this extended tour and we were amazed at how the two luggage porters could accommodate those of us (NOT ME!) who had to have tons of luggage with them.

Once again lots of high rises where people live!

Below are two photos of the central promenade which we walked to from our hotel, once we got settled. Earlier protests had occurred here although we saw no damage. At the time we were there most protests were happening on the weekend and we did not see any part of it. The University is a bit of a distance from here as well.  You can see local tourists below.

Our guide was barely subdued in his anger at the protestors and how they were pushing Hong Kong into a recession.  He said that the hotel rooms were now going for 1/3 of their usual prices making people who lived there say it was cheaper than their rent.  Since he made his living in the tourist industry, it clearly impacted his earnings.  That is the cost of freedom.  What is freedom worth?

Well, I do hope someday to return to Hong Kong and see a much more in-depth tour of the city.  I may have a friend moving there for the U.S. government in the coming year, so maybe I will go visit them!  Thanks for reading all the way to the end, and now you can reheat your tea.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Take Off the Rose Colored Glasses

I fell in love with China and its people. As I have written, everyone was polite and helpful (someone who likes the "straight-talk" would say they are intimidated and know their place.) Both of these things are true. The Chinese government is trying to keep control of more than a billion people, people who are no longer hidden from the real world. The government blocks Facebook and Google and other social tools, but the Internet is still rampant with information that leaks into the homes of a very diverse culture that embraces a capitalistic culture and is eager to learn about the world.

China has 302 living languages, 276 indigenous. They are called "dialects" rather than languages...not accurate! The national language is Mandarin since 1913 and schools are required to teach that. We were told many times in our tours about the indigenous people and how they are given extra points to get into colleges or get special privileges, etc. The Hans, the largest group in China, is somewhat jealous of this, much like our white folks are angry that minorities get special treatment.  They also have discrimination issues between the various religions.  (Click on the photos for a larger view.)

On our visit to a local family (a friend of a friend), my sister-in-law had an app on her phone and we were able to communicate with about 80% accuracy.  It was fun and certainly helped as we had to take the local bus to their home and also to the restaurant!

The greatest variety in people is seen at the temples and tourist areas.  This is also the place you see more police and military keeping the peace(?).

Our tour was full of shows in cheesy costumes and basic folk dancing celebrating the diversity and the history of the country. They reminded me a little of our American Indians who used to do traditional shows years ago.

This post has gotten a little long, so I will talk about our final days and visit in Hong Kong next, since they are in the news so much these days.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Did I ruin your appetite?

Perhaps somewhere in the world there are people who do not like Chinese food, but I have not yet met them. We really enjoyed all our meals even though we were ready for something different at the end of the three-week-long trip. Perhaps NOT wanting to eat something as different as some of the photos I took at a local food market below:

Stomatopods--one of the most ancient of creatures

Grubs and chiles!  Yum!

Wondering what these long caterpillar-like insects are.  Once again with chiles.

Ah, something familiar, squid tentacles ready to BBQ.

The famous durian that tastes better than it smells and is illegal to have in some apartments.

Candied fruit for dessert.  These tiny apples were everywhere including on a plate in our hotel room.

Some Yak cheese, hard and a little sweet.  Would you like some with your rice wine or Chinese beer?

Huge grapes and some persimmons?  These did look good.

I have omitted the Peking dinner, and maybe will get around to that sometime in the future.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Just the Highspots

With three weeks to tour a country (the Chinese land area is about 2.2% bigger than the United States, 3.5 million square miles) and we did get to see all the high spots that are on many tourists' bucket lists and I would like to share.

We visited two monasteries, one for monks and another for nuns.  These are the nuns below who allowed us to wander through their meeting before lunch.  We saw lots of yak butter candles and monks debating.

I just love that whimsical face in the lower right!

We visited the museum with the Bronze Age bells that were buried in 443 BCE and re-discovered in 1978. For the whole story if you are a musical history buff, go to the link. While we did not get to hear the original bells played, we did get a very nice concert using their exact replicates. It was most pleasing to the ears.

We also visited the very impressive Tomb of the Terracotta Warriors.  Much larger than I thought and still ongoing in its exploration and reconstruction of tiny pieces.

We did not visit the Panda Preserve but did visit the Beijing Zoo where the Giant Panda was so over all the fame that he gets.  I did learn that they have to use porn films of other Pandas in heat to get those in the zoo or those in the preserve to be interested in the opposite sex.  No wonder they are endangered.

We toured the large Tienanmen Square and the palaces in the back through the gates.  One of my readers asked about the pollution and there were many days that we could not see into the distance.  Above you can see one of the days.  I was surprised how isolated from high rises this square was.

We hiked to the top of the Winter Palace of the Dalai Lama who is now a refugee in India due to his extreme and loyal following.  The air in Lhasa has only 68% of the oxygen of the air I have here at sea level.  It took me 48 hours before my head felt that it was not floating above my shoulders or that I could walk without looking like I had downed three margaritas in fifteen minutes.

We also walked the Great Wall of China during a time that the crowds were not too crazy!  That took some effort and I am glad I did it at my age now!  I barely got my mind around it and really think you have to backpack the area for a bit to really understand its importance and size.

I see my readers have now fallen asleep, so I will put writing about this trip to rest for now.  Someday I may talk about our wonderful food experiences and a Peking dinner with some friends of friends.  Thanks for allowing me to reminisce my opportunity.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Rural Contrasts

In the cities, the people were younger, looked more professional, or looked as though they were students. As we moved into the more rural areas of China we were able to see a broader contrast of people..both the younger and older...much like the United States.

We visited a rural school that is sponsored by the cruise line and that was a lovely experience. We each were "assigned" a first grader to work with on English for about 15 minutes. My little gal was very shy and it took lots of drawing and hand motions to bring her out.  The school was very rustic and there was no example of technology.  A big contrast with our rural elementary schools.

The teacher was dressed very professionally and kept a tight reign on the little ones.  There were marks on her desk where she had banged the ruler with passion. I can imagine her in her house getting ready for this visit  by a group of old, rich, Americans. Chinese teachers can get credits toward further education if they teach for some time in rural areas.

Automobiles are expensive and hard to come by.   Getting a license involves a lottery and your license plate allows you to drive on the streets only certain days! There are many cars on the streets, but most people travel by motorcycles or motorcycle versions of transport or via bicycle.  Streets were crazily crowded, but I saw no accidents in the three weeks of my birds-eye view from buses.  I saw only one car with a dent. When there was a problem with two drivers I saw it handled with moderation and politeness, and usually finished before the authorities could arrive!

Chinese are very Zen about their lives.  It was not unusual to see someone playing jazz in the park.  There are always groups doing Tai Chi in the early mornings before work in the city parks.  I did see a few beggars, but they were severely handicapped in all cases, missing arms or legs or being blind.

These gentlemen greeted us on our walk toward one of the many pagodas we visited. Go ahead and caption it, or tell me what you think they are thinking...

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The First Night

For me it is ALWAYS about the least that is my focus when I travel. In China, the week of October 1 to October 7 is their national holiday for celebrating the formation of the government of the PRC (Peoples Republic of China), and this year was the 70th anniversary of that celebration. We arrived in Shanghai on the night of the 6th! The streets were full of tourists from all over rural China, rather than locals!

The lobby of our hotel had a crystal eagle to celebrate the 70th anniversary.

We had been dropped off by our guide with plans to meet the next day, so we settled in our room and then decided to leave
 the hotel to head to the "Bund" which was just across the street. The Bund is the walkway along the river and we were told there was a light show every hour on the hour. Unbeknownst to us, we were going the wrong way as we left the hotel and could not cross the street which was just in front of our hotel. You can see the light show in the distance and we were going counter traffic.  You cannot see that there were many police and some military blocking crosswalks and directing people around. We had to walk about 4 blocks our of our way, take a left for 3 blocks, go down another half mile and eventually follow the crowd. We did finally get across the street!

The people were mostly families or millennials with sometimes a grandparent or two which they protected. Everyone was calm and polite even though we were crammed into small spaces. They all politely took their photos and then left space for those of us in the back to get our pictures.

When we were done and realized we had better get some sleep before our morning walk of the city, we started to head back.  To our surprise guards blocked every single shortcut we wanted to take.  We reached the street to the side of our hotel after getting lost and saved by a young Chinese lady with her phone map, and we still were not allowed to cross directly into the front door of the hotel!  I took a chance arguing with one of the policemen and showing him my hotel key card, but he refused to budge.  He looked all of nineteen, as did most of them.  There were lines of young men standing just a few feet apart insuring that we still had to walk another two blocks to wend our way finally back to our hotel.  I saw other elderly Chinese ladies giving the police a piece of their mind as well.  I did not take photos of the guards as that is frowned upon.

We finally made it to our side and were so glad to get back into the hotel.  During the whole experience, jet-lagged and disoriented, I truly felt very safe.  We later learned by our guide that these strict walking patterns had been put in place two years ago due to a crowd rush that killed 100 people!!   So much for my naive view of crowd safety.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A First Summary of an Epic Journey

We left on October 6 and returned on October 26. During this time we cruised, bussed and walked a large chunk of China. The map below covers our trip, except we traveled the exact opposite direction beginning with Shanghai. We also added an extension to the trip by flying to Guilin and Hong Kong shown to the south of the map below. We will probably never be able to return, so we went "whole hog".

There was little jet lag on our part upon arrival and we seemed to be able to join right in. The schedule was heavy. Half-day and full-day activities were the normal routine except for some of the days on the cruise part.

First impressions: China is large, not just in size, but in population. I will not bore you with the differences in municipalities, prefecture-level cities, and county-level cities. Since China is able to move millions of people and build a city in a year or less, these various levels of the population tend to run into each other physically. Shanghai, where we landed, is over 26 million people! Beijing where we began our end, has 6 beltways or city "rings" around it! More than 100 cities are over a million in population. China's government owns all the land and it is leased by the builders or the people who live on it in 100-year contracts. We felt the pulse of China at each stop. Even our guide would say his visit to certain areas was visibly different than the last time.

Below, just a hint of the buildings from different stops!!

The above pictures are a bit deceptive as there were many more I took with building cranes everywhere like long-legged grasshoppers. 

There was a discrepancy on whether the buildings were filled or awaiting tenants. China builds ahead of the curve.  We did not get to see inside the buildings but I will later write a post about two very different home visits we made. The apartments are 400 to 700 square feet in size housing families of 3 and 4. We saw laundry hanging on balconies, meaning there are no dryers in them. We were told by several people that the kitchens are quite small and therefore Chinese eat out most of the time!

The next post will be our first night of arrival and gentle chaos.